Food

Finally a vegan cook we can all relate to – meet your new BFF, Rachel Ama

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Rachel Ama is vegan goals.

She dances. Cooks. Kick-boxes. Inspires.

In shes kind of like the plant-based BFF we all need – someone who knows every last thing about the local vegan scene and who has the ability to knock up a cheaper, possibly healthier version at home.

Shes as far away from the white, middle class, yoga-pant-clad, I-just-came-back-from-a-like-really-spiritual-experience-in-Sri-Lanka-yah? influencers you see on the gram.

Having been vegan for four years, she set up her YouTube channel last year, has presented the Food Programme on Radio 4 and shes now blown up on Instagram too (23k followers and rising).

Rachels food is a fusion of London taste, influences from her travels and flavours from her Caribbean and African roots – really paying homage to just how broad a church the vegan community is.

So who better to celebrate World Vegan Day with?

Rachel turned vegan four years ago, after years of struggling with digestive problems.

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I found out Im extremely lactose intolerant, so I cut out dairy for that reason, she tells Metro.co.uk.

(Picture: Rachel Ama)

Like so many of us, Rachel found herself going down a documentary spiral into the meat trade.

I saw how the meat and fish ended up on my plate. I was heartbroken. Ive always considered myself an animal lover, having had pets all my life, but I hadnt made the association and when I did, I went vegan the next day. I couldnt bear the thought of eating animals.

After that, knowing that I can contribute to helping our environment and my health, it was a no-brainer, she says.

In four years, this country has gone from one barely able to accommodate vegetarians to one packed the brim with exciting plant-based options and new supermarket suppers coming out every week.

The innovation of plant-based foods to create so many different textures and flavours is incredible, says Rachel, who used to struggle being dairy-free a decade ago.

I can go to cafe and see labels marked vegan and not have to quiz staff members. If I want a nostalgic KFC experience thats vegan I can actually get one, and it bangs.

And it just keeps getting easier.

But are we so optimistic here among the chattering classes because we are in London and were millennials? Is it really reaching beyond these golden gates?

Rachel seems optimistic.

(Picture: Rachel Ama)

Its more widespread than that.

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I think it can appear like its just a middle-class thing through the media, but thats not a realistic representation of different communities and ways of living around the world. Veganism isnt new, its new to mainstream media because the rate at which its growing is incredible. Eating meat was a luxury, its only in the last 60 odd years that meat consumption has become more easily accessible and drastically increased.

When I went vegan I found it really hard to find vegans I could completely relate too.

So in creating my channel I wanted to show people that theres more than just the really stereotypical vegan out there. And you dont have to be that stereotype to be vegan.

And part of that no doubt is in being a vegan woman of colour.

The term vegan was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson (a Yorkshireman), the founder of the Vegan Society.

And while plant-based living only became a proper movement in the UK and US in the 19th century, veganism and vegetarianism can trace its roots back to the Indus valley civilisation in 3300-1300 BCE in Ancient India – the same as yoga.

(Picture: Rachel Ama)

The earliest known vegan is thought to have been the Arab poet Al-Maarri (973-1057AD) who apparently argued that if humans deserve justice, animals do too.

In the West Indies, the Nyabinghi Mansion of Rastafari follows Ital – a culinary movement that dictates followers only eat unmodified food grown from the earth around them.

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The names derived from vital and the primary goal of the Ital diet is to increase Livity, or life energy.

There are quite a few famous black vegans. Erykah Badu, Vanessa Williams, Andre 3000, John Salley and Salim Stoudamire are just a few of the actors, singers and athletes who subscribe to plant-based living.

Rachel tells us that when people find out shes vegan, theyre surprised, but thats starting to wear off now.

None of my friends or family were vegan so I was constantly explaining. I was the awkward one at the family gathering, with no food on my plate, that everyone wanted to feed me meat.

With anything we do to evolve, we should learn about our history and roots, and that goes with veganism too.

(Picture: Rachel Ama)

Learning and understanding where veganism exists and has existed before can help us understand it more as a realistic lifestyle, not just a “fad”.

There was, and is, a reason for this lifestyle choice and it has worked, so lets work towards this common goal but understand its roots too.

As for Rachels cooking, well, her food looks amazing but also hearty and healthy because her philosophy revolves around cooking with whole, plant-based foods.

My mum studied nutrition so I grew up in a house that was very anti-processed foods and fizzy drinks so I naturally love to cook with real plant-based foods.

I like to look at my plate of food and see a variety of colours from different vegetables and fruits, because not only do they represent different flavours and textures, but also nutrients and vitamins. Thats my favourite way to cook and eat. Its delicious, flavourful and not unhealthy.

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One thing lots of us cant agree on is whether to make mock-versions of meat and fish.

Some vegans think its great, others believe we should be moving away from the idea of animal products entirely.

Rachel, whose most interesting recipe is called chuna, believes that well develop a new culinary language and taste in time.

But we have to get there, and if people struggle to go vegan because they still want the remembrance of a fish-like flavour, and they can do it in a way that doesnt involve killing and eating fish, then Im down for alternatives.

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In time the language will change as the association becomes more distant.

As 2018 seems to be the year we all woke up to the reality of our plastic problem, how does veganism impact Rachels life in other ways?

I think when opening yourself up to veganism, you can become more mindful and conscious of what youre investing your money in.

Like, what you do on a daily basis that could be harming the environment and isnt actually necessary. So definitely, I certainly dont want skin care products containing animal by-products, or ones that are tested on animals in laboratories.

Sustainable fashion is really important too.

Can you be a vegan if you just dont eat or drink animal products?

If you were to look at the original definition of the term vegan then no, but I dont think thats something to get too hung up on.

Its more important to be mindful of the things weve been accustomed to doing that are actually really damaging to ourselves, the environment and animals and to begin to take action and make changes.

Even if you decide to eat no meat on Mondays as a starting point and then go from there, it all counts and it all makes a huge difference.

Rachel is currently working on her first book with Penguin which will be released in summer 2019. Shell be speaking at this years Vevolution Festival on Saturday 10 November at Southbanks BFI.

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